Why this vegan feminist is red hot for Green Porno.

June 6th, 2009 1:32 pm by Kelly Garbato

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I’ve heard mention of Isabella Rossellini’s latest project, Green Porno, here and there – ecorazzi, The Colbert Report, CNN even – but never bothered to follow up, seeing as I don’t get the Sundance Channel and all. But an article in Bitch magazine’s Spring ’09 issue (No. 43, appropriately titled “the buzz issue”) made me take a second look.

In “Wings of Desire: Bug sex as a gender revolution,” Katura Reynolds examines the subversive nature of Green Porno (as well as British evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson’s alter ego, Dr. Tatiana): by depicting (non-human) animal sex in all its kinky, decidedly non-vanilla glory, these projects challenge our traditional views of what “natural” sexuality and gender expression look like in the animal kingdom.

“Bug sex” is so much more then heterosexual, missionary style pairings: bugs may be male, female, or hermaphrodites; heterosexual, homosexual or asexual; reproduce through sexual activity, parthenogenesis, or an alternative combination thereof; etc. (Some, like the preying mantis, even engage in sexual cannibalism, consuming their partners during coitus.) The same holds true for many animal species, humans included; for example, in his 1999 book, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (which I highly recommend, by the way), Bruce Bagemihl reviewed existing evidence which points to observed homosexual behavior in nearly 1500 animal species.

Green Porno, which is currently in its second season and airs on the Sundance Channel Tuesdays at 9 PM ET, is a bit cheesier and cheekier than its British cousin, – which is so raunchy that it’s not even available on Region 1 DVDs, let alone running on U.S. television. (You can, however, view a few clips of the show on You Tube.)

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Writes Reynolds,

The eight short films in [season 1 of] Green Porno were written by Rossellini and codirected with Jody Shapiro. They feature Rossellini acting out the sex lives of flies, praying mantises, earthworms, dragonflies, gees, fireflies, snails and spiders. The films are simultaneously hilarious, scientifically accurate, unrepentantly corny, compellingly sexy, and completely bizarre. [...]

Rossellini strives for a simple, childlike atmosphere in the films. She starts each in a bodysuit, saying, “If I were a [type of bug],” and then her costumes gradually build as the film progresses: extra arms, compound eyes, snail shells, you name it. The props and supporting characters are made from giant cut-paper sculptures, like she’s wandered into a kindergarten classroom plastered in giant paper flowers.

The schoolroom setting is chosen very deliberately – it’s a foil for overtly sexual content. Rossellini gets it on with huge paper models of flies, mantises, and bees; she gasps and moans in orgasmic ecstasy as a firefly and a snail; she runs around waving hands covered in paper cutouts of sperm as a spider. As stated in the press release, “If human, these acts would not be allowed to air on television. [Indeed, Dr. Tatiana's human reenactments and live non-human animal footage is not.] They would be considered filthy and obscene.” But the silly costumes and absurd props distract audiences from the flagrantly, graphically sexual content. Comedy often serves as a harbor for the unspeakable. By laughing at the silliness of it all, we can disarm the taboo.

Additionally,

Through genderbending, Rossellini also disarms the viewer. In six of the films, she plays the male sex partner, which makes her panting and moaning funny, rather than smutty. [...]

Two Green Porno episodes go beyond the cross-dressing motif. In “Snail” and “Earthworm,” Rossellini play hermaphrodites.

Whereas Season 1 focuses strictly on bugs, Season 2 examines the sex lives of marine animals, including barnacles, whales, limpets, anglerfish and starfish (with three more animals to come, I assume). Season 3 promises to be even more interesting (and relevant to animal advocates), as Rossellini and crew turn the spotlight on “farm” animals.

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If you hop on over to Green Porno‘s website, you can view (clips of?) all the episodes that have aired thus far. They’re quite short, coming in at just a few minutes each, and well worth a watch. (Perfect for killing five minutes here and there.) Or, you can take a quiz to find out what kind of green porno star you are, and also play “What’s your green porno name?” (Mine’s Tomato Hornworm, which sounds about right.)

There’s also a wealth of behind-the-scenes video and photos, my favorite of which is the making of the whale (sumo) suit.

The whale episode, which begins with a discussion of “penis drag” (and snag – ouch!) is a must-see:
 


 
I’m also particularly fond of Season 2′s uber-feminist* clip, “Why Vaginas,” which Rossellin opens thusly: “Eggs are precious. Sperm are cheap. Sperm come by the millions, but not eggs.”
 

 

Be still my beating heart! You had me at “vagina.”

While I could oooooh and aaaaah over every clip, there are way too many to embed. When you have a few spare minutes, go check ‘em out yourself; you won’t regret it, promise.

Anyhow, returning to the original discussion of Green Porno and company’s potential to influence how we see human sexuality, Katura Reynolds concludes “Wings of Desire” with the following observation:

And here we get to the quiet revolution that hides under all the costumed shenanigans. Our society is caught in a dramatic struggle over whether to define issues like homosexuality, sex changes and same-sex marriages as “unnatural” acts. Clearly the target audience of Green Porno and Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation is not the conservative legions of the religious right. But the fact that Rossellini and Judson have both turned their cameras on the subjects of gender roles, homosexuality, and various flavors of kink through the venue of scientific bug-sex cabaret is nonetheless a cause for hope. These campy comedies are making two important points: first, that humans are themselves part of nature [and the animal kingdom, to boot]; and second, that the natural world is so full of “perversions” that it’s well worth reassessing our standards. [...]

By playfully redefining “unnatural” sex acts as common, healthy, and practical, they are building a fascinating blend of queer/feminist/scientific animal symbolism.

To this, I’d like to add that, in addition to their anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic, anti-anti-sex thrust (pun most definitely intended), these shows are anti-speciesist as well.

Conservative insistence that (human) homosexuality and the like are deviant and unnatural oftentimes rests, as Reynolds notes, on the willful misunderstanding and outright misrepresentation of sexuality in the (non-human) animal world. “Gay marriage is wrong because sex evolved for reproductive purposes only, as reflected in the absence of homosexual acts among animals” – or so the conservative argument goes. When evidence of homosexuality in non-human animals is uncovered, the denial is swift and violent. (Recall, for example, the religious right’s backlash against Roy and Silo, a homosexual pair of Chinstrap Penguins currently residing imprisoned at the Central Park Zoo in NYC.)

While this disavowal of animal homosexuality and sexual variety serves to justify and reinforce “isms” directed at humans (homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, etc.), it at also functions at another level. In denying non-human animals the full range of their behavioral, emotional and sexual expression, we rob them of their complexity, their personality – for lack of a better term, their humanity.

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Like us, non-human animals can be complicated creatures, driven by a range of goals and desires. Animals, humans included, aren’t just about reproduction; our sole purpose in life isn’t simply to spread our DNA and produce as much offspring as possible. Sometimes we have sex, mate and form bonds because it’s fulfilling in other ways. Nor do we only nurture and protect our own genetic material: sometimes we act with altruism and compassion rather than selfishness and narcissism.

By insisting that animals only copulate in order to introduce sperm to egg, we simplify trillions of sentient beings, taking from them characteristics which make them seem that much more human.

Ironically, in so doing, we also reduce the human species to a caricature, a boring, two-dimensional model which scarcely resembles h. spaiens, in all its diverse, eccentric, animalistic magnificence.

Also ironic: humans’ tendency to measure morality in our species by looking to the behavior of non-human animals in order to judge what is and isn’t “natural” – while simultaneously justifying our exploitation of non-humans animals by exaggerating our dissimilarities to other animals species. There’s “Us” and the “Other,” except when there’s not.

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* Okay, so this same reasoning has been distorted by religious conservatives to defend the subjugation of women and girls – for their own good, of course – but I doubt that’s what the feminist Rossellini had in mind.

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Videos in this post:

Green Porno 2: Whale
Isabella Rossellini explores the mating habits of whales.

Green Porno 2: Why Vaginas
Isabella Rossellini explores the wonder of compatible penises and vaginas.

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4 Responses to “Why this vegan feminist is red hot for Green Porno.”

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